George Washington, Slave Catcher – New York Times Op-Ed by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Written by on February 16, 2015

In celebration of Black History Month, 900AM-WURD and The Library Company of Philadelphia present WURD Speaks: 150 Years of Freedom Fighting on February 25, where we will discuss the evolution of Black activism – past, present and future. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, associate professor of Black Studies and History at the University of Delaware and Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, recently published the New York Times op-ed “George Washington, Slave Catcher,” which provides the perfect backdrop to the event. An excerpt is shared below, with a link to the full article.


AMID the car and mattress sales that serve as markers for Presidents’ Day, Black History Month reminds Americans to focus on our common history. In 1926, the African-American historian Carter G. Woodson introduced Negro History Week as a commemoration built around the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Now February serves as a point of collision between presidential celebration and marginalized black history.

While Lincoln’s role in ending slavery is understood to have been more nuanced than his reputation as the great emancipator would suggest, it has taken longer for us to replace stories about cherry trees and false teeth with narratives about George Washington’s slaveholding.

When he was 11 years old, Washington inherited 10 slaves from his father’s estate. He continued to acquire slaves — some through the death of family members and others through direct purchase. Washington’s cache of enslaved people peaked in 1759 when he married the wealthy widow Martha Dandridge Custis. His new wife brought more than 80 slaves to the estate at Mount Vernon. On the eve of the American Revolution, nearly 150 souls were counted as part of the property there.

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